Starwood Puts Loyalty On iPad

Starwood Hotels and Resorts' loyalty program is putting a huge emphasis on expanding its suite of applications for mobile, with portals tailored to specific device platforms. But they are also making their apps more engaging, not just in terms of functionality, but in terms of eye candy and content. 

The reasons are clear to anyone who travels a lot and relies on pieces of paper, saved files, PDF's, Google Maps and social media: information travels with you and if it isn't in one place and in real time, accessing it is all a pain in the carry-on. 

The latest application in Starwood Preferred Guest's (SPG) mobile services is an app for iPad on the new iOS 7 platform. The new app includes, for the first time, a "lean-back" experience melded with a set of reservation, scheduling, and general information tools. The new content makes sense for the bigger screen, says Chris Holdren, SVP Starwood Preferred Guest & Digital, as well as for the peripatetic. 



"Travel by nature is mobile,” he said. "We are very focused on trends across platforms." He said that the company is getting more bookings from mobile in 2014 than it ever has.

The group, he says, has built a team of mobile experts "focused on design and technology, so we think of the team more in terms of technology developers than marketers." 

He says use of Starwood apps, which until now have been tailored only to iPhone and Android and not tablets, has been booming, with mobile bookings growing at an annual rate of 1,000%, five times the yearly growth rate of the web a decade ago. And, per Holdren, 40% of travel searches are on mobile devices, a 25% increase from last year. "Outside of the hotels themselves, digital and mobile is where we build the brand." 

The new app's content side is a kind of digital travel coffee-table book, with high-resolution beauty shots of global properties and amenities mated to social content -- a section of uploaded visitor Instagrams, for example. "[Customers] use [the app] as a gateway to the brand," said Clay Cowan, VP, global digital for Starwood Hotels & Resorts.  "They often think about what property is right for me." He said they get 45,000 Instagram photos per month from guests.

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